July 21, 2005

No Heroes in the Karl Rove Case

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report

ROCHESTER, MN -- The case of Karl Rove, the presidential advisor who may or may not have leaked the name of a covert CIA agent to the press, is a truly maddening one.

It’s now the official Washington summer scandal of 2004, as Karl Rove’s photo is on the cover of this week’s Time magazine. A federal investigation into the White House’s possible involvement in leaking the CIA agent’s name is underway.

Most serious of all, a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, has been sent to jail for refusing to name the person – whom everyone thinks is Rove -- who gave her the name of the CIA agent.

The case is maddening on so many levels. As a journalist, if a reporter is sent to jail for protecting a source, one would certainly prefer the source to be someone noble, like a whistleblower on corporate cheating or a toxic waste dump. No such luck here. Whoever the source, he or she may have committed a crime themselves for publicizing the name of a CIA agent.

Parade of Lawyers

What’s more, whoever did it, the agent’s name was obviously leaked as part of an unusually dirty political trick. It wasn’t the outed agent herself who was the target, but rather the agent’s husband – Joseph Wilson. He’s a former diplomat who offered evidence in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was not trying to buy uranium nuclear fuel in Africa.

But most of all, the case is maddening from a citizen’s point of view.

The first thing every citizen wants from both government and journalism is clarity, and in this case there is virtually none. When we look at this case, all we see is everyone saying “Not me!” Or rather, everyone’s lawyer is saying on behalf of their client who is being investigated, “Not them!”

It’s all just another parade of lawyers. The President himself, who could easily take steps to clean house, instead says wants to see what the investigation and all those lawyers come up with in their research.

And once again, as it has many times in recent years, journalism itself is being exposed in a none-too-flattering way. Indeed, in a way that exposes not the strengths of the press as an independent institution in a democracy, but rather its considerable weaknesses at this historical time.

Where are the journalistic heroes? Is Judith Miller, now in jail, a hero?

WMD Stories

Surely, one should not detract from the considerable personal sacrifice she has made in this case. Even if a journalist goes to jail to protect a mafia hit man, if it’s necessary to protect the independent press it’s got to be done. It’s worthy, and we can only thank the person who does it.

And yet we simply can’t – because the facts say we can’t – ignore the full context in this case. Judith Miller, it is not irrelevant to point out, is the same reporter who only three years ago was badly duped by sources she called “senior administration officials,” who argued that Saddam Hussein was trying to build weapons of mass destruction. We now know this wasn’t true.

In her WMD stories, Judith Miller was thus carrying water for a White House propaganda team that duped America into thinking Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat. That helped to launch our country into a bloody war that shows every sign of being this generation’s Vietnam.

In the present case, it’s probable that Judith Miller was carrying water for a White House that was bent on discrediting and punishing one of its enemies, even by putting that enemy’s wife in danger. Now, Miller is apparently carrying their water all the way to jail. And that is really maddening.

Journalism Exposed

Finally, consider the behind-the-scenes peep this case is giving American citizens into how journalism is conducted in our nation’s capitol.

A journalist in the case who barely escaped going to jail in the case, Time’s Matthew Cooper, informed his editor in an e-mail now made public that a conversation he had had with Karl Rove was held “on double super-secret background.” I wonder what journalism school taught him that?

Thanks to this case, the whole world now knows that when an elite Washington reporter calls up a source and says “I hear so-and-so is a wife-beater” (or a CIA agent) and the source says “I’ve heard that too,” that is considered a solid enough confirmation to run with the story.

On the plus side, this is certainly an instructive insight. It’s a good thing that journalism gets exposed, just as journalism usually does the exposing.  

But for any citizen who hopes for a better government, and for a better press to cover their government, it’s just really maddening.

Copyright 2005 @ The McGill Report